A few days ago marked 35 years since the federal special education statute, now known as IDEA, was signed into law. It is hard to believe that within my lifetime, and probably yours, it was legally permissible to exclude children with disabilities from our public schools entirely.
Think about that for a minute.
A little over a generation ago, students with disabilities had no legal entitlement to an education at all, let alone a Free and Appropriate Public Education (“FAPE”), as we have come to know special education designed to meet a child's unique needs.
We have come a long way since then. And yet, we still have so far to go.
It is often noted that IDEA did not and does not define what the “appropriate” means in the entitlement to FAPE. Legal precedent and additional statutory language haven't done much to make the definition any clearer, but what does appear to be well-understood is that the IDEA does not guarantee the “best” programs to children with special education needs.
Instead, children are entitled by law to IEPs which confer varying degrees of “educational benefit.” The common example taken from these cases is that children with disabilities are entitled to a Chevy, not a Cadillac.
35 years later, I have to ask, does this seem acceptable to you?
Does anyone believe for one minute that school districts would get away with telling parents of children who do not have disabilities that they are striving for average? How many “blue ribbon” school boards would have the audacity to publicly say to parents of the students who do not have IEPs: “we only have to provide adequate”?
I have yet to read a Mission Statement on the walls of the many schools I enter on a daily basis which says “Here at Jane Q. Public Elementary We Aim to Create an Atmosphere of Mediocrity, Whereby All Students Are Entitled To Adequate.”
I'm just saying.
Here's to hoping that 35 years from now, the dream of IDEA will met.